• Vera Institute of Justice -
    Vera Institute of Justice

he rippling impact of the Crime Bill has touched on many things well beyond the conventionally understood boundaries of criminal justice—the economy, education, and public health systems, and the well-being and resilience of communities. It has shaped furious debate about guns, federalism, and the challenge of building trust between law enforcement and the people they serve. It is, however, perhaps the unintended—although not entirely unforeseeable—consequences of the bill’s sentencing provisions that have been most profound.

Prison spending is now the second fastest growing portion of increasingly strapped state budgets. Public funds that could have gone to running schools instead are going towards running prisons. The benefit in terms of reduced crime, the evidence shows, has been uncertain. Eighty billion spent annually for little return does not compute on either side of the aisle, but notably has generated substantial outrage on the Right.

Far too many children are growing up with a parent behind bars. From 1980 to 2000, the number of children with incarcerated fathers increased from about 350,000 to 2.1 million; and with women’s incarceration increasing at nearly twice the rate of men, more children than ever are being separated from their mothers.

Public health experts document how the ubiquity of incarceration takes a literal toll on the health of these children and their communities. Faith-based leaders preach about the moral wrongs wrought by incarceration and the necessity of reclaiming communities.

Many of the consequences affect a limited number of communities, primarily poor and of color. But they are corrosive and—through collateral consequences that reduce educational, employment and civic opportunities—they are also corrosive to society at large. Business leaders express growing concern about the impact on our future workforce, which will be increasingly people of color.

The 1994 Crime Bill did not cause all of this. But it did play a role.

As U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said last year, “As a society, we pay too high a price whenever our system fails to deliver outcomes that deter and punish crime, keep us safe, and ensure that those who have paid their debts have the chance to become productive citizens.”

The evidence also clearly shows that this era of rapidly rising incarceration is unprecedented—both in our nation’s and the world’s history.

Perhaps in twenty years we will look back and say it was just that—an era.

Public opinion on criminal justice reform
Alan Jenkins

"This is a moment where Americans are ready for big, transformative change."

Creating a social movement
Gara LaMarche

"That's the way change happens. It's the dovetailing of research, evidence, and advocacy with activism."

Children of incarcerated parents
Jeanette Betancourt

"There are 2.7 million children annually who are impacted by the incarceration of a parent."

Restorative Justice
Craig DeRoche

"We’ve lost sight of the fact that there are human beings on both sides of the equation."

Public health and mass incarceration
David Cloud

"The pursuit of public health and public safety are not mutually exclusive."

A faith-based perspective
Rev. Dr. Gabriel Salguero

"Faith leaders bring a particular worldview of how you see people. Are they a problem, or a promise?"

On economic potential
Robert E. Rubin

"In terms of prisoner reentry, there's no doubt in my mind that if we invested a lot more in effective reentry—basic education, psychological counseling, job training—that the payoff would be enormous."

Beyond cost containment
Marc Levin

"People say ‘let’s reduce the size of government’[…] there is no bigger government than a prison."

Community after incarceration
Angela Grover Blackwell

"It’s easy to think about the impact [of incarceration] on the individuals, that’s immediate. What we often don’t think about is the impact on families and the impact on communities."